Call them mistakes. Call them errors. Call them whatever you want (except late for dinner, of course), but the point is we do some pretty stupid things every year to injure ourselves in what many would consider “safe” situations/conditions.
Even though countless people suffer from aviophobia (fear of flying), your chances of being in an airplane accident and hurting yourself are effectively nil. Alternatively, crossing the street at a crosswalk can be treacherous; thirty-eight percent of all pedestrian accidents happen there!
Writing for The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman wrote a thoroughly interesting/frightening piece on the role the mind plays when we make mistakes, errors, or otherwise follow through with dumbass decisions that inevitably lead to us harming ourselves. Titled “Be Careful! Your Mind Makes Accidents Inevitable,” Mr. Rothman goes over some strange, funny and scratch-your-head statistics from noted psychologist and safety expert Steve Casner and his book Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds.
As the most highly developed species on this planet, we sure as shit make some questionable assumptions and decisions in our lives. Mr. Casner actually argues that we are “in the midst of a safety crisis.” For example, from 1918 to 2000, the accidental death rate dropped from about one in 20 people to one in 40 people. This was largely the result of better education, public safety campaigns, stricter laws, innovations and regulations.
However, since 2000 that figure has been on the rise; more of us are dying accidently than did 20, 30 or even 50 years ago when people like Don Draper were drinking and driving, smoking indoors (and on airplanes!), not wearing seatbelts in any vehicle, swimming in restricted areas for fun, and a whole other bunch of stuff that someone today would freak out about if asked to do.
Steve Casner has a few theories as to why this is, including “risk homeostasis” (the tendency to take more risks once we feel safer), a surge in DIY go-getters (you think that crunching stock market numbers all week on a computer will prepare you to properly use a chainsaw next weekend?), constant imaginative behaviour (why can’t I use the butt-end of a screwdriver to break up the ice in my freezer?), and the “social appeal of the daredevil” (how many chicks are going to dig my gear if I can Frogger through traffic in midtown Manhattan!).
Finally, there are lots of weird stats involved in Mr. Casner’s book that should give us pause and make us think the next time we want to do something out of the ordinary for no real purpose. These include:
- 40,000 Americans are sent to the ER annually after wounding themselves with their washing machines.
- In 2010, 51,000 car crashes and 440 deaths resulted from mattresses falling off car roofs and into traffic.
- According to the American Cancer Society, an untold number of Americans die every year from cancer because they believe their symptoms “will resolve themselves with time.”
- Many of the 140,000 people who fall off ladders every year do so because they step on the rung labelled “Not a step.”